This is where it all began, inside the Albertine walls of the University campus at Pollenzo, a tiny village hamlet nestling between the vineyard-covered, truffle-rich lands of Piedmont in Italy. The place where the Slow Food movement first saw the light thirty years ago. The driving force behind the University of Gastronomic Sciences, founded in 2004 and the first of its kind in the world, in which all dimensions of the food universe are integrated and whose vision could be summed up in the portrait of a young farmer with an iPad.
Pollenzo is revered and imitated worldwide: almost half of its students come from abroad, and German or Japanese delegations are regularly welcomed to the University to learn and take their new-found knowledge back home. “The valorisation of everything to do with food is fruit of deindustrialization: in Italy – and in Europe – it has become necessary to extract new resources from our respective territories. And what better heritage than food to ensure our survival? – explains Simone Cinotto, a food historian and lecturer at Pollenzo, specialized in American history – So, universities have responded to this new interest”.
Strange as it may seem, the most extensive and ramified offering is actually available in the States: the first courses dedicated to food and its socio-cultural implications started to appear two or three decades ago. Then came the transition: the first degree courses were inaugurated (minor and major).
“What sets us apart from 'Food Science' (Agraria in Italian)– explains Cinotto – is that the latter takes no account of socio-cultural aspects. Our challenge is all about integrating the various spheres of activity”. In the course of the last two years, the university courses focused on food have really taken off, with some extremely interesting new proposals. The great state university of Indiana launched a PhD in food anthropology two years ago, directed by Richard Wilk, which involves as many as 37 departments on the campus. The Pacific University of San Francisco offers the first ever Master of Arts in Food Studies on the West Coast, directed by historian Ken Albala.